Commentary

Major winner Stewart Cink struggles

Updated: November 17, 2010, 4:55 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

There are worse things to do than spend a week playing golf in Florida at Walt Disney World, so Stewart Cink figured the Children's Miracle Network Classic was a good place to chip away some rust and begin to work toward 2011.

It was his first tournament since the Ryder Cup, and while he put together a nice tournament with a tie for 19th, Cink also played his last official event of the 2010 season knowing that his year fell short of his goals, especially coming off his first major championship.

[+] EnlargeCink
Simon Stacpoole/US PresswireStewart Cink embraced the Claret Jug after winning the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry. Not since that historic victory, though, has he cashed a winner's check.

"This year has been a disappointment because I didn't get myself into contention enough," Cink said. "I have high standards and expectations. Most players would probably be happy with the year I had. But that doesn't really make me feel a lot better about this year. Because I don't feel that great about it.

"I'm out here to try to win tournaments. I enjoy being in contention for wins. If you put yourself in that position, sometimes it's going to happen. I just didn't give myself a lot of chances."

Cink, 37, really was not a contender on Sunday all year and finished 52nd on the money list. He had just three top-10 finishes and his only top-five came at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, where he lost in the quarterfinals. At 54th in the FedEx Cup standings, he failed to make the Tour Championship in his hometown of Atlanta.

His best stroke-play finish since defeating Tom Watson in an aggregate playoff at Turnberry last year was a tie for sixth at the 2009 Bridgestone Invitational in his next event. He hasn't had a top-10 finish since a tie for eighth at the Memorial in June.

Cink certainly expected to build on that major victory, but it actually came as a surprise. He had "pretty much written off 2009, I was playing so poorly," so Cink went about making some changes.

He went to a different putter, and worked on a new routine, changes that he considered to be pretty major and with an eye on 2010.

But on Sunday of the British Open at Turnberry, Cink was the only player among those within 5 shots of the lead heading into the final round to break par. He holed a clutch 15-footer for birdie at the 72nd hole that gave him a chance. And when Watson bogeyed the last hole, Cink remained calm in the playoff, winning by six strokes.

"I was not expecting to have a major win as much stuff as I changed," Cink said. "So that did come as a surprise. Career-wise it wasn't a surprise. But the fact that I had changed everything like two months before and it was my third or fourth tournament, that was surprising.

"I hoped that winning there would have indicated that, 'Wow, this stuff really works and it'll be like that all the time.' But golf doesn't work like that.

"I'm still working on the same stuff, I'm still implementing it. Golf is a battle between the ears. That is what I fight. I get in my own way out here too often. To some extent everyone does it. Some do it more, some stay out of their own way better. And that's part of my goals."

Despite his struggles, Cink was a member of his fifth straight U.S. Ryder Cup team, getting an at-large pick from captain Corey Pavin. He was the only player on either side to not lose a match, posting a win and three ties -- although he admits the final-day tie against Rory McIlroy was painful, as a victory there would have meant the U.S. retaining the Cup.

Still, Cink was solid, and noted that his best tournament of the year otherwise was a tie for fifth at the WGC-Match Play.

"It just brings out something in me that I can't seem to find the same intensity in stroke play," Cink said. "I've analyzed it forward, backward, every other way. Trying to figure out what the difference is. Something about the Ryder Cup, the finality of every shot, that brings out the best in my game. I haven't been able to quite get it to translate to stroke play recently."

What awaits is more time to figure it out -- even though Cink figured he'd have it down by now.

He will play the week after Thanksgiving in the Chevron World Challenge, Tiger Woods' unofficial event that nonetheless offers world rankings points and an opportunity for Cink to move up from his position of 45th in the world. He has been as high as No. 5.

And then ... Cink is uncertain. He didn't qualify for the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions because he did not win this year.

The start to 2011 remains undecided, if not what he needs to do.

"This year I just didn't perform like I wanted to," he said. "I wasn't in contention enough. ... My short game wasn't as reliable as I wanted it to be, my iron play was not quite up to my standards, and that all adds up to not being there enough."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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